Asia world cup qualifying

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2 Koreas move toward meeting in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Before a meeting of the Korean neighbors in the second stage of 2022 World Cup qualifying, North Korea must navigate a potentially tricky opening fixture against Lebanon in Pyongyang on Thursday.

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Forty teams are still active on the road to Qatar but only the eight group winners and four best-placed teams progress to the next stage where Asia’s four automatic places in the World Cup are up for grabs.

South Korea, the favorite in Group H, is scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Oct. 15 in a meeting between two countries technically at war.

“We know that North Korea will be tough at home and have World Cup history but we want to get a good start,” Lebanon coach Liviu Ciobotariu said. “In a group that also has South Korea, every game is vital.”

South Korea, looking for a tenth successive World Cup appearance, sits out the first round of games this week, as do all eight top-ranked teams in Asia, and kicks off against Turkmenistan on Tuesday.

Also Thursday, Turkmenistan takes on Sri Lanka, the world’s 200th ranked team. Unlike South Korea, the South Asians are unlikely to progress to the next stage but there is still much at stake.

After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Colombo that killed more than 250 people, first round opponent Macau refused to travel to the island for the return leg of their first-round qualifier in June and forfeited the match. Sri Lanka is keen to show that life has returned to normal.

“Terrorists have attacked many developed countries in the past and this does not affect carrying out the affairs of any sport,” the country’s football federation declared in a statement. “Sri Lanka shall enjoy its right to host the home game in Sri Lanka and every county shall respect each other’s right to host similar games.”

Southeast Asia also has plenty to play for. The biggest crowd this week will likely be in Jakarta as Indonesia takes on rival Malaysia in front of what is expected to be 80,000 fans.

Feelings between the two neighbors can run high. According to reports in Malaysia, Football Association of Malaysia president Hamidin Mohd Amin has requested that an armored personnel carrier be on standby.

“We are not worried about the situation at the stadium itself as there are a lot of security personnel from both Malaysia and Indonesia guarding the perimeter,” Hamidin told local media. “But there is a risk of provocation and chaos en route.”

Thailand hosts Vietnam in the same group while Mongolia plays its first ever game in the second round of World Cup qualifying and faces Myanmar.

Elsewhere, 2022 World Cup host Qatar is placed in Group E and kicks off against Afghanistan. Regardless of how the Asian champion performs, it will not progress to the next stage of World Cup qualification. Qatar is involved as the path to the 2022 World Cup has been combined with qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup which will take place in China.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

World Cup qualifying: Japan stunned at home by UAE; Qatar undone by GK mishap

Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
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Asia is chasing four automatic spots in the 2018 World Cup, and opened its final group play round Thursday with no lack of surprise results.

AFC will send the top two teams from Groups A and B of qualifying, while the third place teams will play a home-and-home series for the right to face CONCACAF’s fourth place side.

Let’s begin at Saitama Stadium, where world N0. 48 Japan was stunned by United Arab Emirates. Keisuke Honda opened the scoring for the hosts before 25-year-old Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil and scored on both sides of halftime to give UAE a 2-1 win for a surprising three points.

Japan hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1994, and this loss stings given that most of Group B’s sides will expect to handle UAE at home (UAE recently lost to Jordan and Syria).

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World No. 120 Thailand came close to striking an upset blow, but Nawaf Al-Abed converted a late penalty to give hosts Saudi Arabia a win. Australia got a pair of second half goals to ease to a home win over Iraq.

Next up: Tuesday matches between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Japan, and UAE and Australia.

In Group A, South Korea appeared ready to cruise past visiting China on the strength of a 3-0 lead, but Team Dragon picked up two goals in four minutes to make it interesting before falling 3-2.

Uzbekistan received a stiff challenge from underdog visitors Syria, but Ordabasy striker Alexander Geynrikh broke through in the 74th minute to lift the hosts to a 1-0 win.

Iran, too, faced nervy times at home but 11 minutes of stoppage time saw goals from Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen) and Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar) boost the Persian Stars to a 2-0 win over Qatar. The first goal was rather poor on Qatar’s goalkeeper.

Tuesday’s matches see China and Iran, Syria versus South Korea, and Qatar taking on Uzbekistan.

Cahill scores as Australia edge closer to World Cup

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For New York Red Bulls star Tim Cahill, a third-consecutive trip to the FIFA World Cup is tantalizingly close.

Australia swept aside Jordan 4-0 in Melbourne earlier this morning, as Cahill added a second half strike to set up the Socceroos for a huge clash next week against Iraq.

The Aussies know that a win against the Middle Eastern nation will book their place at the World Cup next summer in Brazil, as they will take the second automatic berth in Asia’s Group B behind Japan who qualified last week.

Skipper Lucas Neill grabbed a late goal, after Cahill and Mark Bresciano had been set up by tricky winger Robbie Kruse. The Bayer Leverkusen-bound Kruse also added a goal himself, as Australia dominated from the start against an edgy Jordanian side at the Docklands Stadium.

Red Bulls supremo Cahill dazzled in the display and the 33-year-old midfielder is looking forward to a third-straight World Cup finals appearance and just Australia’s fourth appearance in the finals all-time. But the big test will come in front of a packed house in Sydney next Tuesday, as Iraq roll into town hoping to spoil the party. BTW, check out this incredible photo Cahill posted on his Instagram profile. Epic. Used it for our photo, but this is a slightly larger version.

To stop Australia advancing, Oman must be Jordan next week and hope that Australia lose or tie with Iraq. It is sure to be a nervy night down under whatever happens.

But with Cahill starring and set for another crack on the worlds biggest stage, Major League Soccer’s profile will also benefit.

Yes, it is only one player. However having Cahill represent the league, assuming Australia do qualify, will do wonders to spread the word of MLS. But his current form is one of the most pleasing things, especially for the New York Red Bulls and Mike Petke.

(More: Japan becomes first nation to qualify for 2014 World Cup in Brazil)

Cahill took a little while to adjust to MLS when he arrived late last season. But this year he has been instrumental in New York’s success, not only adding a few crucial goals but also driving the team on from the center of midfield. Cahill’s commitment and determination obviously sit well with Petke and moving him into a slightly deeper role has helped the Red Bulls.

With the years rolling on, Cahill’s success in transforming himself into a less attacking player has been noticeable this season. And with Australia just one win away from qualifying automatically for Brazil 2014, Cahill’s form in Major League Soccer will undoubtedly stay high in 2013 and 2014, as he prepares for next summer’s World Cup.

New York Red Bulls fans should be cheering on the Aussie’s next Tuesday. But I’m sure Cahill will still perform well regardless… But probably just that little but better if the Socceroos win in Sydney and stamp their ticket to Brazil.

Asia World Cup qualifying, final round: The new, deeper qualifying field

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While Africa and CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying are just gearing up (and Europe’s hasn’t even started), Asia’s is already down to 10 nations. Those aspirants, survivors from the 43 teams that originally entered qualifying, started AFC’s fourth round this weekend.

Format

The 10 teams are split into two, five-team groups set to compete in an eight-match round-robin tournament. First and second place finishers qualify for Brazil. The third place finishers meet to determine who gets to face CONMEBOL’s fifth for the last spot in at World Cup 2014.

It’s the same qualifying format the Asian Football Confederation used for South Africa. For me, it’s the best qualifying format in the world. It’s very similar to CONCACAF except it doesn’t boil down to one group (after which, most of the teams will still be alive). It’s better than South America’s marathon, more forgiving (read: fair) than Africa, and avoids the nauseating inclusiveness of Europe’s one, big, final stage.

Beyond what you know: Asia coming of age

There is, however, one huge difference between this year’s tournament and the one which sent four teams to the 2010 World Cup. Last time, there was a clear divide between Australia, Japan and South Korea (who combined for one loss in 24 fourth round games) and the rest of Asia. This year, there’ll be no paved roads, with the emergence (or re-emergence) of at least three nations giving the final stage some needed depth:

  • Iraq, who missed the World Cup after winning Asia’s championship in 2009, appear to have gotten back on track, going undefeated through third round qualifying.
  • Likewise, Iran has regained their swagger, posting a tournament-best +12 goal difference in the previous phase.
  • Uzbekistan, who have regularly produced intriguing teams at U-levels, have justifiably high hopes, going 5-0-1 (W-L-D) in a third round group that included Japan.
  • Add in Qatar, who also went undefeated through the previous round, and the confederation could conceivably see one of its big three stumble.

If a stumble happens, the most team most likely to trip up will be Australia. The Socceroos enjoyed a certain element of surprise in the last qualifying tournament, with many of their goals (and chances) coming off set pieces or crosses that took advantage of the likes of Joshua Kennedy and Tim Cahill. In truth, the Asian teams seemed a bit tactically naive, perhaps underestimating the viability of such a direct approach. Though Holgier Osieck’s team had no trouble in the third round, they’re unlikely to streamroll the final phase this time (though it would be a shock if they didn’t qualify for Brazil).

Australia, along with South Korea, had the weekend off, as will one team from each five-nation group for each match day.

source: Getty ImagesGroup A

Pos. Nation GP Pts Diff.
1 Iran 1 3 +1
1 Qatar 1 3 +1
3 South Korea 0 0 0
4 Uzbekistan 1 0 -1
4 Lebanon 1 0 -1

Lebanon saw 40,000 come out to support the team against Qatar, an encouraging turnaround from the relative disinterest that met qualifying’s onset. Unfortunately for the Beirut faithful, their side dropped a home match to an opponent that’s very much an unproven side. Even for a tournament neophyte, Qatar at home should get a result (else, how did you get this far in the competition). Regardless, Uruguay-born Sebastian Soria was able to push Qatar to the top of the group, scoring the match’s only goal in the 64th minute.

Iran excused a controversial smash-and-grab in Tashkent, with the Uzbeks having a goal ruled out despite the shot having clearly cross the line. Reports had Iran defender Jalal Hosseini well inside the goal when he cleared Odil Ahmedov’s 74th minute shot. Twenty minutes later – well into stoppage time – Mohammad Reza Khalatbari converted to give Iran full points.

In Lebanon on Friday, Uzbekistan needs to respond. It will be very easy for their relatively young team to dwell on the perceived injustice. Uzbekistan, however, had road success in the previous round, hinting they’re capable of reclaiming the lost points.

Group B

Pos. Nation GP Pts Diff.
1 Japan 1 3 +3
2 Iraq 1 1 +0
3 Jordan 1 1 0
4 Australia 0 0 0
5 Oman 1 0 -3

Along with Lebanon, Oman looked like a potential minnow. They did little to disavow that notion in Saitama, falling behind by three before the hour mark. Keisuke Honda (finally healthy), Ryoichi Maeda and Shinji Okazaki scored for Japan, who host Jordan on Thursday with a chance to race to a quick, commanding lead.

Jordan’s 1-1 result against visiting Iraq was billed as the Jordanians holding the favorites to a point, but this was a good result for the Iraqis. This tournament’s traditionally defined by avoiding road losses, which Iraq has done. With second place finishers going through to Brazil, accumulating one-point results on the road is a formula for success (provided you can win most of your home games).